Our conservation activities focus on maintaining good health of sea turtles and ensuring a safe habitat for them.
STCC staff and volunteers constantly monitor various places around Curaçao for turtle activity and incidents. We do regular in-water health checks as well as observe beaches for any stranded or injured turtles.
Sea Turtle Rescues
Fish lines and hooks are big treats for sea turtles at Curacao. STCC rescues turtles at several locations. The main rescues take place at Klein Curacao and Playa Piskador, although other locations also demanded our help. During rescues, we observe sea turtles for injuries and provide help on the spot or take them to a vet, if more help is needed.
Over 2019, 27 turtles in total were hand caught and rescued. The most important rescues concerned Monster and MiniMonster, two loggerhead turtles (Caretta Caretta). Monster stayed at Playa Piskado for a couple of months and was foraging on fish scrap around the pier. Once he swallowed a hook and thick line, we had to catch him and investigate and treat him at the vet. As a prevention measure, he was released at another location, in the Caracasbaai area.
Beach & Underwater Clean-ups
Beach clean-up activities are carried out 3 times per week to improve the quality of nesting sites. Most common clean-up sites are San Pedro, Klein Curacao and Wacawa. Clean up activities mainly focus on the windward side of the island because that concerns marine debris.
We also organize monthly underwater clean-ups in collaboration with dive operators. Many dive schools now organize their own clean-up activities, so we reduce our involvement in this. In 2019 STTC performed special cleanup editions with the kids of Klein College as part of their Kids for STCC program and some local companies. These cleanups took place at Piskador, the north coast and Caracasbaai.
We always welcome volunteers who would like to join us for clean-ups. Send us a message if you want to join!
A few times per week we monitor a couple of beaches to check for any threatening activity. Some of the places we constantly monitor are Playa Piskador, the beaches around Westpunt, Caracasbaai, Ascension bay, North coastline, as well as Klein Curacao. We check for nesting activities and nests, injured or stranded turtles and other situations that might require our attention.
We monitor the health of sea turtles around Wacawa, as the cases of tumours there are often. We provide any care and operation to these turtles as much as possible.
Sargassum influx at Ascension Bay
Sargassum is a type of brown algae. It used to be a common sight in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, but since 2011 It has been seen more and more around the Wider Caribbean Region, regions where until then it had been absent or rare. Since 2014, massive sargassum landings have been reported around the Caribbean region. The last few years Curacao has also been affected. Around march the inlets on the North shore have been filling up with thick patches of the brown algae.
Importance of Sargassum for the ecosystem
While these algae can be regarded as a nuisance when massive quantities are decomposing in our inlets, it is important to note that the sargassum mats at sea are home to many endemic species and provide ’nurseries’ and cover habitat for a range of species, covering invertebrates, fish (including commercially important fish species) and protected turtles. There is growing acknowledgement of the crucial role it plays in the wider ecosystem ranging from the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. It has led to restrictions of sargassum in-water harvesting in some places, including in the USA where it has been designated as an “Essential Fish Habitat”.
Sargassum challenges and impacts
Massive landings of sargassum in our North shore inlets have numerous impacts. When we look at the sea turtles that use the inlets as foraging habitat, they have a risk to get entangles in the sargassum. When they cannot get up to the water surface to breathe they can drown and when they cannot get down after they have reached the surface, they risk overheating.
Furthermore, there is a specific concern about the stagnancy of large amounts of sargassum within the inlets that have unique mangrove and seagrass habitats, which sea turtles use as feeding habitat, because of the potential anoxia caused to the environment. From an environmental point of view, more research is needed in order to determine how badly the sargassum influx affects the coastal and marine ecosystems.
On the shore sea turtles and fish have been found dead in the sargassum landings. Depending on the sargassum amounts onshore, it could give difficulties for nesting sea turtles as well as hatchlings. It also affects the beach composition and it would be interesting to see how this affects the nest success. For this more research is needed.
Besides impacts on sea turtles and marine habitats, the sargassum influx also has potential economic impacts. Cleaning the sargassum costs money, directly and indirectly, it affects tourism, fishery and nautical activities. Health issues are under monitoring, as, depending on the size of the landings, the coastal population and beachgoers may suffer from the release of the hydrogen sulfide from sargassum rotting. Cases of nausea, headaches, skin rash and breathing difficulties have been reported.
In 2018 we experimented with placing a boom at the entrance of Boka Ascencion. The idea was that the boom would stop the Sargassum from entering the inlet. Unfortunately it didn’t work as expected. This helped the decision that cleaning can best be done when it reaches the beach. The Ministry of Health, Nature and Environment coordinates this with Uniek Curacao, an NGO that manages the Ascencion area. STCC can just monitor the Sargassum beds for sea turtles in the affected inlets and help them if possible.
Onshore collection come with some important challenges. The harvesting procedure should be monitored and rules followed to avoid any contribution to coastal erosion and disturbance of marine or coastal organ isms, such as turtle nesting. We can advise in this regard and through our network we can assist by arranging extra hands for clean up activities, however this should be done on request of the coordinating parties. This is because it is a primary task of the government and the scope of the sargassum influx surpasses a volunteer-based approach.